Date of Paper

5-2014

Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)

Department

Social Work

First Advisor

Colin Hollidge

Abstract

Humans share a strong bond with animals, when a pet becomes sick or dies an owner can feel extreme grief and bereavement. Research studies have shown that some veterinarians feel they are inadequately trained to handle the pet owner’s feelings of grief and loss. Social workers could have a unique fit in assisting bereaved pet owners, since many social workers help bereaved individuals successfully grieve the loss of a human loved one in a healthy way. The purpose of this study is to see what veterinarian’s attitudes are toward social work services in small animal private practice settings. Using a qualitative exploratory research design, six veterinarians were interviewed on their knowledge of social work services, comfort level in dealing with bereaved owners and the roles and challenges using a social worker in small animal private practice settings. The data revealed that veterinarians acknowledge client grief almost daily, use a variety of skills when working with bereaved owners, and have extensive knowledge of social work, social workers and social work services. Participants stated social work services could be utilized in private practice settings by helping clients make difficult decisions, offering support, facilitating communication, providing resources and training and staff support. Participants identified challenges of having social work services at a small animal private practice including fees and cost associated with the services, small clinics with low client demand and integrating social work services in a veterinary setting. These research findings strongly suggest there is a place for social workers and social work services in a veterinary setting; however maybe not in private practice settings. It is up to future social workers to forge a bond with veterinarians to offer unparalleled client centered care by offering support for pet loss and bereavement.

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